What is the essence of Zen? Not performing. Being 100% natural.
Zen, at its core, is a practice that invites us to be, not perform. It is not an act, not a ritual, but an experience of authentic, unvarnished existence, much like the summer... vibrant, real, and profoundly alive... a breeze not bound by the branches of the tree, but dancing freely amongst the leaves.
What does it mean to be 100% natural? Our first instinct may be to look outside ourselves for models and exemplars, but in doing so, we risk slipping into performance, losing ourselves in roles and masks that feel safe and familiar. The essence of Zen is not found in a perfectly executed ritual, a beautifully enunciated sutra, or even in the mind-blowing commentaries of Zen masters.
Instead, it lies in the quiet, deeply personal act of simply being. It is to exist without pretense, without a desire for accolades or fear of judgment. To be 100% natural is to be like water... uncontrived, unpretentious, flowing in harmony with the laws of nature, and reflective of reality as it is.
The above said... right here... right Now... what might happen if we stopped performing for each other--if we peeled away the carefully constructed layers of pretense and met each other in our raw, unadorned authenticity. How might that experience of genuine being with each other feel?
Could we not experience each other more clearly, not as characters in our personal dramas, but as equal human beings, each with our own struggles and triumphs, hopes and fears? We would not just be sharing our stories, but also witnessing the essence of our collective human experience, without the distorting lens of our own preconceptions and judgments of thinking mind that tears so much apart rather than valuing, appreciating, and noticing the natural beauty of each other, without all the invented and false decoration.
Here, we find ourselves at the heart of Zen... the cultivation of clarity and insight to discern between what is real and what is merely a performance. This discernment is not an intellectual exercise, but a direct, intuitive understanding born of silent observation and deep introspection.
So, who are we, right here... right Now... stripped of our stories and self-conceptions? Though it could seem that way, this question isn't asking for a verbal response; any answer we give would merely be another layer of the story, another mask. Instead, Zen invites us to live the question, to dwell in the not-knowing, and in doing so, discover the profound freedom that lies beyond the confines of our constructed identities.
In the end, Zen does not give us answers. Why? It has no answers to give. Instead, it radically transforms the questions we ask. It shifts our focus from the external to the internal, from the performed to the lived, from the conceptual to the experiential. In the silent echoes of a Zen koan, in the ringing emptiness of a meditation bell, in the flavor of the tea, we are called not to explain, but to experience; not to describe, but to be.
In shedding the roles we play and the stories we tell, we don't lose ourselves but realize our True Nature... our authenticity and integrity. As the wave realizes it is the ocean, so too we realize our inseparability from the boundless, ever-changing tapestry that Is Life being Life.
May this understanding deepen our practice and enrich our lives. May it illuminate the path for us and all sentient beings, helping us to meet each other in our shared human authenticity, far from the theatre of performance, closer to the essence of Zen--being 100% natural.
In the spirit of mutual learning and growth, I invite you all to share your insights, your questions, and your doubts. In our shared and continuing dialogue, may we help each other awaken to the wisdom that lies within us all.
一We Are Living Beneath the Same Sky
自然 | Shizen | Being 100% natural